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When I was 10 years old, I was selected for Sisters Circle, a long-term mentoring program for girls in Baltimore City. At that time, I had no idea how it would change my life. My mother was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and with her inability to walk, she was no longer able to work. My family faced significant financial strain, and this negatively impacted my school performance and self-confidence. It was the beginning of middle school. And I was beginning to sink.

Founded in 2000, Sisters Circle was created by Heather Harvison, a local educator and businesswoman, in response to a request from Irma Johnson, former principal of a Title One school in Baltimore. Ms. Johnson witnessed her most promising girls fall through the cracks as they transitioned to, and moved through, the middle and high school years — facing various risk factors such as teen pregnancy, school dropout, and incarceration. They lacked confidence in their abilities and any vision of a professional, independent future.

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In partnership with Baltimore City schools, teachers and administrators identify at-promise 6th grade girls each year to participate in the after-school program in preparation for a 7-year minimum formal mentoring relationship. Sisters Circle also offers weekly after-school programs, monthly cultural and educational events, summer camps and programs, college and career guidance and more — just for girls. With each new experience and opportunity, we begin to rise above and change the narrative over time.

All I wanted was some stability and someone to be there for me, and my mentor Pam provided just that by being a consistent presence in my life. I was able to graduate from high school and pursue a bachelor's degree in education from Stevenson University.

And it’s not just me: 98% of Sisters Circle mentees have graduated from high school with the remaining 2% earning their GED; 92% of Sisters Circle graduates are either currently in, or have graduated from college or an alternative training program; and of those who have completed their college degree or alternative training, 88% possess full-time, gainful employment.

Why does this model work? Research shows that mentoring black girls creates a heightened optimism about the future. Young girls learn more about themselves and others. They are exposed to the world around them. And mentors support each young woman in finding her own voice and path — rather than assuming or projecting what that path should be. By empowering girls early on, we begin to break the cycle of injustice that young women of color face in the educational system, the workforce, and in society as a whole.

As black girls, we are raised with the understanding that adults cannot be our friends and to just do as you’re told. To some degree, it feels like we are supposed to make ourselves invisible. The girls where I come from are part of a narrative that places us inside of a box – a box that society says we are not likely to escape. We are deemed “opportunity youth” — that is, 16 to 24 year olds who do not complete school or secure full-time employment.

But Sisters Circle counters that trajectory time and time again. Pam believed in me and really saw me. She supported me every step of my journey as I went from an inquisitive and shy little girl to a first-generation college graduate, an educator and now an employee working for the very organization that brought us together in the first place. I don’t know where I’d be without it.

This is one powerful example of an organization working every day to help Baltimore city girls like me.

Won’t you join us?

LaShae Felder (lashae@sisterscircle.org) is the Program and Development Associate at Sisters Circle. She is an alumna of Stevenson University and the Bryn Mawr School for Girls.

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